While using ELL (and other sites), I noticed that there is a lot of abuse - answers are posted as comments. And usually, it is not done by people with low reputation, which is even worse.

I already read about these here and here, but there is nothing really helpful being done to discourage the practice. Even more, why should somebody keep "cleaning" after bad practices?

So my proposal is to have the ability to flag the comments which contain answers.

The default reaction if the flag is accepted could be:

  1. Allow the user XX time to add a proper answer & delete the comment;
  2. If the time expires with no action:
    • the user will get a penalty;
    • something else.

My idea would be to have the penalty set as a percent of reputation (5% would sound nice in my head - can be anything non-trivial). In that way, users will learn very fast to not break the rules.

The "something else" can be automatic transformation (or duplication) of the comment text into an answer - or anything else that helps closing the question with a valid answer.

Should this be implemented maybe across all Stack Exchange sites?

  • 1
    I disagree that the commentator should be punished for offering advice. With your system I would probably risk losing 5% of rep. That's a lot if you have over 10k. Sometimes high rep users refrain from posting b/c they lack the time to write up a fully feledged answer. Sometimes the answer is so easy a new user should get that opportunity to increase their rep.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 8:38
  • You got that wrong, about "offering advice". My question / issue is about providing a perfectly good answer as a comment to the question. Moreover, the punishment will go through some voting and so on , and you will still have some time to "promote" your comment to a good answer. Why I suggested percents? Because users with more than 10k (sometimes more than 50k) provide answers in comments. They will not feel a punishment if they loose 100 points.
    – virolino
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 8:42
  • 1
    They might not feel the sting of losing 100 points (which is quite considerable all the same) but they might be driven away from the site. I've seen long time users disappear for a lot less. Punishing commentators is not helping anyone. Flag the comment as being "not needed" if you find its presence hinders the OP rather than assists.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 8:49
  • While I may have agreed with (many) other reasons, I think that this is really not a good one: we keep the users with high rep instead of the users with good behavior.
    – virolino
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 9:01
  • 2
    I quite dislike the answers-in-comments plague, but 5% rep penalty per incident?!? I would have trouble flagging such comments, knowing the penalty would be so high. Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 9:45
  • The 5% was just an example - I just made an edit. ALL DETAILS that I the proposed are "negotiable" - I am not all-knowing, I am not God, I am not anything just by myself. Final purpose: reduce the number of new answers-in-comments, especially from high rep users.
    – virolino
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 9:52
  • 2
    I downvoted mostly for this comment: users will learn very fast to not break the rules. Obsessing about who is "breaking the rules" can be almost as unhealthy as the minor violations themselves.
    – J.R. Mod
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 10:48
  • If you're requesting a feature for all sites, you may want to ask on meta.stackexchange.com instead of ELL's meta. There is already a discussion of a similar feature there Add an “answer in comments” flag reason.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 10:54
  • Also related: So many answers in comments
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 12:11
  • 1
    Possible duplicate of So many answers in comments
    – Chenmunka
    Commented Mar 15, 2019 at 13:41

3 Answers 3


First, people already have the ability to flag comments that contain answers, so I’m not sure what you mean by:

So my proposal is to have the ability to flag the comments which contain answers.

Second, I’m not in favor of any sort of heavy-handed, loss-of-rep approach. Suspensions can be meted out by the mod team for repeat offenders. That’s pretty much as heavy-handed as punishments get across the Stack Exchange, and I wouldn’t be in favor of a heavier penalty for people who are trying to be helpful.

As for turning the comment into an answer, you can do that. I can do that. In fact, I have done that, when I thought a comment that should have been an answer and was too helpful for deletion. (If you’re curious, you can find more than a dozen instances here.)

If you’d like to join that crusade, this is what I’d recommend:

(1) If you copy the comment verbatim into an answer, change it into a wiki answer. Also, add a note in fine print saying that it was transcribed from an earlier comment. That way, you won’t be getting credit for someone else’s work, and your answer won’t get flagged as plagiarism.

(2) On the other hand, if you enhance the answer so that it essentially covers the same thing but is bolstered by additional examples or research, feel free to keep the answer as your own. You might want to begin by saying something like, “As one commenter pointed out...” and then continue with something like, “Here is a dictionary entry supporting that assertion...” That way, people will be able to tell which part of your answer was from an earlier comment, and which part was your own contribution.

(3) After you are done with your answer, flag the comment as obsolete. (You might mention in your flag that you turned the comment into an answer so the mod team has an easier time handling the flag.)

  • I did not find an obvious button labeled: "answer-in-comment" or similar. I only have the option of a general complaint.
    – virolino
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 10:30
  • 1
    @virolino - That’s what the fourth option is for. Something else. A problem not listed above. Try to be as specific as possible.
    – J.R. Mod
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 10:33
  • Why would it be bad to have a specific option "answer in comment", since it is a widely present problem, known for many years? According to your statement, we can actually live without any specific option, only keep "something else". But the helpful question is: which is more helpful? Which is more clear and less time consuming for the reporter?
    – virolino
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 10:35
  • @virolino - I told you how you could help solve the answers-in-comments problem using existing SE mechanisms. As for what you are asking about now, that was discussed on SE meta back in 2017. Some like the idea; you can go upvote that question if you want, but the mod team here at ELL doesn’t have the ability to change the listed reasons.
    – J.R. Mod
    Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 10:43

The other answers have some advice specifically about dealing with comments that seem like answers. I would like to speak more generally about rules and penalties and whether that is the right approach for our community.

This is a volunteer community. Almost everyone you encounter on this site is here to help others or get help. Very little of what happens on this site is done to intentionally cause harm to the site, or to upset the community.

Someone leaving an answer in a comment is trying to be helpful and should not be punished for that. I really don’t like answers in comments but I do like people being helpful, and sometimes it’s not really clear whether a comment should be considered an answer, so I would be opposed to penalizing someone for trying to be helpful.

In my opinion, the best way to help a community of volunteers act a certain way is to focus on ourselves and what good thing we can do instead of focusing on others and how we can punish them for doing things we think are bad.

Scolding other users in comments is not friendly, and we want this community to be a place where people feel comfortable participating, even if they don’t do everything perfectly all the time. If you see something that is a problem and you don’t feel like you can do something about it in a friendly way, flag it for the mod team. That’s what we’re here for. I would rather the community be focused on making the content of ELL excellent and the community welcoming and friendly than on who is breaking which rules and how we can punish them.


From what I can tell, the standard procedure of dealing with answers in comments, hesitant or non, across Stack Exchange is the following:

  • If an answer is posted in a comment, ping that user to post their suggestion as a fully-fledged answer, so it can be voted on. They might come back later and do just that.

  • If they reply and explain why they posted a comment rather than an answer, respect their decision.

  • If no one replies, and you think the solution or explanation offered is important, post it yourself, you can credit the user who came up with the suggestion in the answer.

(My tip) It is advisable to make the answer as watertight as possible, don't just copy and paste the comment. A good answer is one that also contains references (supported evidence) and proper citations.

As snailboat♦ mentions at the start of their answer

If you see an answer posted as a comment, you can turn it into an answer. This is a constructive activity, and it's explicitly allowed as long as you give credit because comments are licensed under Creative Commons.

Back in 2011 a user posted this answer on MSE

We discussed this on meta.serverfault a short while ago and decided that you should Steal comments that answer the question and post them as an answer. You can always tick the Community Wiki box if you're not comfortable rep whoring.

Subsequent posts asking about answers in comments have either been closed on Meta as duplicates of the one above or never gone beyond suggesting the same ideas.

1. Answering in comments [duplicate](2014)
2. What should we do when getting an answer in comments? (2015)
3. What is the correct etiquette for answering a question where an answer has been given in comments? [duplicate] (2016)

Over at Stack Overflow, SE's flagship site, with 485 upvotes this question was posted on their meta

  1. Question with no answers, but issue solved in the comments (or extended in chat) (2014).

The top answer, 387upvotes, says

Post an answer with the solution in the comments, and make it Community Wiki by checking the Community Wiki box. Robert Harvey♦

This appears to be the official guideline. There is no mention of punishing users who post clues or helpful information in comments

Punishing those high-rep users, as suggested by the OP, because they posted helpful suggestions or even answers risks alienating them from the site permanently. I don't think anyone wants that.

  • "If they reply and explain why they posted a comment rather than an answer, respect their decision." Well, maybe. If you really feel it should have been an answer, it is not their "decision" whether it should be posted as such: it is perfectly fine to post their comment as a CW answer with their username for attribution. (And all the better if you improve it.) No one would have any grounds to object to this. Commented Mar 12, 2019 at 19:39
  • 2
    @NathanTuggy what I meant by "respect their decision" was not to harass or badger them any further.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 1:27
  • Oh, I'd certainly agree with that. Commented Mar 13, 2019 at 1:33
  • I would go a step further and say that once an author has rejected any suggestion that you've made for their post, respect their decision and let it go.
    – ColleenV
    Commented Mar 14, 2019 at 11:53

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